But all of the hand-me-downs and sleeping on the floor helped prepare Anthony Madison for the tough times he would face later in life, both on the football field and in his family life.
In late 1992 and early 1993, Madison lost an older brother to a heart attack at 24 and his twin sister passed away.
"That was a tough time, losing two family members within a close span like that," said Madison, a rookie cornerback with the Pittsburgh Steelers. "And then I lost a close childhood friend not long after that. I've dealt with some tragedies, but it teaches you not to take things for granted."
And Madison, whom the Steelers signed as an undrafted rookie, is certainly not taking his chance at the NFL lightly.
A three-year starter at Alabama, Madison has plenty of experience against top-notch competition. What he doesn't have is ideal NFL size. At 5-8 1/2 and 180 pounds, he's smaller than nearly every receiver he lines up against.
"That's probably the reason I didn't get drafted, but there's nothing I can do about that," Madison said, his ever-present smile on his face.
"I can't do anything about the size God gave me. And it's never been a problem on the football field. I've lined up against plenty of big receivers in the SEC. And you know what? Nobody could say my size was a difference."
Madison started 37 consecutive games for a Tide defense that ranked among the best in the nation during his senior year. Madison, who had five career interceptions and 30 pass breakups, kept his consecutive starts streak alive despite suffering a broken wrist as a junior.
He knows he'll have to show the Steelers he's tough enough to hold up to the pounding NFL players must absorb, but he points to former Steelers' cornerback Willie Williams as his inspiration. Williams, a 1994 draft pick of the Steelers, led the NFL in interceptions in 1997 and retired after winning the Super Bowl with the Steelers last season.
"The Steelers had a guy here, Willie Williams, who just retired, who was the same size as me," said Madison, who helps make up for his short stature with his long arms and excellent leaping ability. "He played a long time in this league and started a lot of games. I look at a guy like that as somebody I can use as inspiration. It also shows that the Steelers don't have a problem with a smaller corner if he can play the game."
Also in his favor is the fact that Madison excelled on special teams at Alabama. Using his 38 1/2-inch vertical leaping ability, he blocked a punt as a junior against Kentucky and a field goal against Hawaii.
"All I've ever wanted was a chance," Madison said. "The Steelers are giving me that. I want to show them that I deserve it."